It appears likely that the United States Senate will have a chance soon to vote on a nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court. That’s fine, in our view, and probably as it should be.
It’s also likely a major political gift to President Donald Trump, in a couple of ways, and is proof once again that you never really know the twists and turns an election will take.
Let’s walk through all that for a minute.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a trailblazing justice, passed away late last week after a remarkable career at age 87 from pancreatic cancer. That means President Trump has a chance to fill a vacancy and solidify the conservative majority on the court.
Whether you think that would be a triumph or a catastrophe depends entirely on your political affiliation; there doesn’t appear to be a lot of middle ground at the moment. We’re not going to pass judgment on that right now.
Democrats contend that the nomination and confirmation process should wait until after the election, which happens in six weeks. They point, rightly, to the fact that Republicans in the Senate delayed the confirmation process of President Obama’s nominee until after the 2016 election, nearly a year.
That was clearly political gamesmanship, and it also clearly worked. It shouldn’t have happened, but it did. They should have voted back then, just as they should vote now.
But let’s be serious: Both parties are completely hypocritical on this matter. They were making the opposite arguments last time. It really comes down to trying to win elections and win seats on the court.
That’s one of the ways this situation benefits President Trump. By reminding voters that both Republicans and Democrats are hypocrites, it makes his faults seem less egregious. The second way it helps him is that it makes voters focus on the question of the makeup of the Supreme Court.
So the election becomes more about that, and (at least slightly) less a referendum on Mr. Trump’s job in his first term. Say what you will about Mr. Trump, the country is a mess right now and he’s the one in charge, so a referendum does not work in his favor. A vote on the direction of the Supreme Court might, or at least it makes the election more of a tossup.
While we’re making that point, let’s follow the logic: Something else substantial could come up between now and Election Day. In fact, given the nature of 2020, it seems a certainty that it will.